In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Saanich council suspended its rules of procedure to allow special council meetings to be conducted electronically.
During the March 16 meeting, councillors discussed contingency plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All Saanich public hearings, advisory committees, standing committees, board, foundation and commission meetings have been cancelled until further notice.
Council and Committee of the Whole meetings will continue.
— District of Saanich (@saanich) March 17, 2020
Aside from closing recreation centres until further notice, council decided it would be best to allow virtual meetings from March 17 to July 1 in an effort to reduce the number of face-to-face encounters at municipal hall, Mayor Fred Haynes said. However, that will only apply to special meetings, Saanich will maintain council and committee of the whole meetings in the chambers.
According to a Twitter post from the District of Saanich on March 17, all public hearings, advisory committees, standing committees, board, foundation and commission meetings are cancelled until further notice.
In the chambers, councillors’ chairs and desks have been separated and other municipal meetings will be moved to larger rooms to allow two metres between each person, Haynes said. He added that only essential business items will be included in meeting agendas to reduce the number of residents and staff required to attend.
This, he explained, will allow the municipality to continue to keep the community safe while still moving forward with Saanich business.
“The key thing to do is to keep Saanich operating efficiently and safely,” Haynes said.
He emphasized that while residents are still allowed to attend meetings, they are encouraged to use other methods of participation. All meetings will continue to be live-streamed for those who choose to participate from home and residents can send emails, mail letters or call councillors with concerns.
Haynes said councillors are making the switch to phone, email and social media meetings to correspond with residents.
Upon advice from federal and provincial governments regarding large gatherings, Haynes said councillors will also not attend the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities conference in April or any other large meetings for the foreseeable future.
Saanich will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation “actively” and take necessary precautions to protect staff and residents, Haynes said.
He stressed that there is no need to panic or stockpile groceries. Haynes hopes residents will observe advice from public health, opt for phone calls to reduce face-to-face meetings and reach out to their neighbours – especially the elderly.
“We need to use our strength as neighbours to help each other out,” he said.